Welcome to the third week of Advent.
So far we’ve focused on Hope and Love.
This week’s focus is Joy.
Joy is not the same as happiness. There’s supposed to be a difference between the two, though it’s sometimes hard to put your finger on. The way I was taught, happiness was fleeting and joy was ever-present. I’m starting to wonder about those semantics, and whether the air of superiority about them is warrented.
Happiness isn’t a bad thing, but it’s short-lived. Joy is supposed to be a deeper down emotion, something we retain regardless of our circumstances. It has the reputation of being something cultivated over a long arc, something tapped into by decision and a squarely set jaw.
For example, no one would say they’re joyful when their house just burnt down (although no body would say they’re happy about it, either).
However, they might say they still have joy when they lose their job and have nothing else lined up, even though they aren’t happy about it.
So what’s the difference?
JD Salinger is said to have written, “The fact is always obvious much too late, but the most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid while joy is a liquid.”
(He should have written “Riddle me this!” as his first phrase of that quote. Let me know when you sniff out what the heck he was saying. Thanks fer nuthin’, Sensei Salinger.)
Joy seems to be consistently connected to a spiritual state, a grounded connectedness to ourselves, those around us, and a higher spiritual purpose. No wonder it feels superior to happiness, which is rooted in things lining up the way we expected or a positive outcome we were hoping for. Happiness is almost a consumable good; joy is more durable.
As I was working on an art journal page for this week in Advent, I was working in layers and trying to create texture that I thought I would then paint white, so the texture would be the focus rather than the color. The idea was to add white as a final layer, but it would still have undertones of darkness (Payne’s grey and quindoctraone magenta) and brightness (metallic gold).
I liked the way it looked, but it didn’t work the way I thought.
That’s similar to the whole happiness vs. joy thing.
The second page I worked on, I let myself grab colors I like and just slap ’em on a page. I had received a mailing with the word JOY on it, so that was handy. When I put it all together it looked like this…
Whoa! Bienvinedos a Miami! Here’s a soundtrack to match this art journal page:
It’s fun, it’s cheery, it’s upbeat. All good things, but not exactly descriptors of Joy.
It all got me to thinking. Happy doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Happy is considered the temperamental cousin of Joy. She’s looked down on as being shallow and flighty, depending on getting the foam on her cappuccino j-u-s-t right, or adjusting her recliner to the optimum angle. She’s supposed to be nothing like Joy, who is the stable, responsible one, the even-keeled, thoughtful cousin who manages to keep her chin up in the worst of circumstances, when Happy high-tails it to the Bahamas. Why is joy seen to be so superior to happiness?
Here’s something I think comes into play. Many character qualities or personality traits have varying degrees, deeper levels of the thing. Let me explain and you see what you think.
Nice is a good quality. We want people to be nice. But nice is not the same as kind. Kind is a whole other thing, with generosity and consideration implied in it. You can force yourself to be nice temporarily, but being kind is something that comes from a different place in the heart.
Smart is a similar example. Who doesn’t want to be smart? Smart’s good. But wise is a couple levels deeper. I don’t know if you can be wise without being smart but I DO know you can be smart WITHOUT being wise.
Happiness is the first degree, the entry level, of Joy. Weeping may endure for the night but Joy is gonna come in the morning. Joy is the thing that you can retain in spite of crummy circumstances or hardships that make it hard to get out of bed. Maybe joy is one of the things that MAKES you get out of bed.
Maybe joy is what happens with happiness sinks down into your soul and makes a home there.
Whatever joy is, I hope you find more of it in the coming week.